The UN refugee agency recently released a report on the status of refugees worldwide in 2011, noting some particular trends. I want to highlight two disconcerting trends. First, in the words of the report: "2011 saw suffering on an epic scale:" the number of displaced persons stayed above 42 million for the fifth straight year.
The report also shows that the number of people returning to their home country has remained low while the number of resettlements to a third country (like the USA) have continued to decrease.
As the summary says, "a person who becomes a refugee is likely to remain as one for many years – often stuck in a camp or living precariously in an urban location."
To draw all this together: at a time when forced displacement remains incredibly high and the ability to return home remains low, the only remaining option out of this precarious existence, namely resettlement, has been steadily declining.
We've felt this decline in our office, watching fewer refugees able to come over, especially families. The decreased number of arrivals, due to added security checks, came at a time of financial crisis and rising anti-immigrant sentiments, making the cuts seem desirable to many. Yet, the result, as the report shows, has been to leave more people stranded in precarious situations with no way out.
What should we do?
As Christians, we should reflect on our priorities. It is easy to give some out of our plenty but when resources are less abundant, generosity costs more. Yet, caring for the marginalized, persecuted, and displaced is central throughout the whole Bible: Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt! We have to ask ourselves the very tough question: do the poorest and most vulnerable bear the brunt of our cutbacks? And, what does this mean when Jesus repeatedly identifies himself with the most vulnerable? We also need to get involved. Refugee programs depend on community support. So, find ways to give and get involved. If you are volunteering, please fill out and submit monthly volunteer logs so we can document the community support! Finally, advocate. We can use our voices to let government officials know that the refugee resettlement programs remain a vital humanitarian effort as well as a blessing to our country, state, and city. Karim, a refugee our office resettled, talked about all this in terms of friendship. In an interview, he said,
"the refugee is a tired person coming a long way who needs rest and support." Later in the conversation, when talking about the U.S., the theme of friendship returned: "I think the United States of America and the American people are looking for real friends." We prayerfully examine our lives, give, engage, and advocate, ultimately, because Christ calls us to be friends, to love our neighbors as ourselves.